Helper council approves city water rates, restrictions
|The ordinance approved by Helper officials changes not only the base amount and overage charge rates, but bans culinary outside watering between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. The guidelines specify that individuals violating the ordinance will be subject to criminal prosecution on a class B misdemeanor category offense.|
When Helper officials met last Thursday, the city's proposed water ordinance and fee hikes were the subject of fiery discussion in a packed, overflowing council chambers.
At the March 11 meeting, Councilman Robert Welch proposed a significant change in how the city charges for water. He recommended that the water base be lowered from 10,000 gallons to 6,000 gallons for the same $12 monthly fee. In addition, he proposed that the overage charge be changed from $1.89 per 1,000 gallons to $2.
The changes were recommended to encourage people to conserve water. Helper sole source of water is Colton Springs. The flow from th e springs is only one-third of normal this year.
The council waited for public reaction before voting on the proposal, which also included some restrictions as well.
"You can't compare what we pay to Price city," said Ronald Mutz, referring to the last meeting when Welch had shown the differences in rates. "They have many more people and a bigger system. Were just a small town and never will be more than that. People will still need to use the water."
Mayor Joe Bonacci asked Welch to address the matter and explain the reasons for recommending the changes.
"This has not been an overnight thing," pointed out Welch, who oversees the city's water department. "We have had many discussions about this whole situation."
"We just don't have the water we used to. We are in a serious situation. Our water department has already had to start pumps that are usually not turned on until late May or the beginning of June. The only reason we want to lower the base rate is for conservation reasons," explained the councilman.
But a number of the audience members questioned the councilman's explanation. Some Helper residents in attendance at the council meeting suggested that the city was doing it to make money.
"I would be interested in ways to make the city more revenue," said Mayor Joe Bonacci. "But this isn't one of them."
Welch explained that the water department had looked at averages and found out most residents don't use much more than 5,000 to 6,000 gallons per month during the summer.
"We actually could have proposed lowering it to 4,000 gallons, but I didn't think going that low would be a good idea. At 6,000 gallons, the limit is reasonable. If the water situation improves we can always raise it. I'd rather be in the position of doing that than having to ask for lower numbers," said Welch.
But even with the councilman's explanation, many of the Helper residents in attendance at last week's meeting voiced objections to the changes.
"If you are going to cut our water in half, we ought to cut your wages in half, too," said Bob Rojas emphatically. "I just can't make sense of this. Why in the hell don't you just write up the people who are using water wrong?"
The mayor responded by pointing out the provisions of the new ordinance and the reasons for implementing the guidelines.
"The issue is that we just don't have the availability of potable water we need here," said Bonacci. "We are possibly going to pass an ordinance here tonight that will address those issues. We didn't do it in the last council meeting because we wanted citizen input, which we are getting from you tonight. We are willing to listen to solutions to this problem that any of you may have tonight."
The ordinance in question changes not only the base amount and overage charge rates, but also includes a total ban on culinary outside watering from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily.
The guidelines also prohibit running culinary water to clear debris from driveways or sidewalks.
In addition, the ordinance specifies that individuals caught violating the guidelines will be subject to criminal prosecution on a class B misdemeanor category offense.
Other complaints also came up during last week's regularly scheduled public meeting about water and usage in the community.
"I noticed that the company that is working on the fishing pond is taking water out of one of the hydrants to spray on the pond as they build it," said Annie Smith. "Anyway, if this is such a bad water year, I don't think they should fill that fish pond. There is nothing stopping them from putting that on hold."
Welch indicated that he had been made aware of the contractor's actions and had asked the crews to stop taking water out of the hydrant. They had agreed to find another source of water.
The mayor explained that the water that will be used to fill the fishing pond is private share water and has nothing to do with the city.
The matter of the fishing pond also brought up the problem of secondary water that is being used in the community.
"Remember that some in the community members have canal water to water their yards," pointed out Bonacci. "The city is now watering with some of that water, too."
"All the parks, with the exception of the seniors park, the Locust Street Park, and the outdoor museum are on canal water. Those three will be restricted just like everyone else to the proper watering hours," indicated the mayor.
Some residents in the audience were concerned about the fact that once the rates have been raised the fees will never go down again, even when the water situation improves.
"This is not a permanent hike. It is only to get us through this crisis," explained Welch.
Some Helper residents asked the council members and the mayor what will happen in the event the city's water situation gets worse.
"Right now ,our only source is Colton Springs. But we can buy from Price River Water Improvement District," said Welch. "That would cost more, too. "
According to the mayor, the city's culinary water system could be shut off for certain periods of the day in the event the situation becomes extremely critical.
"That would be a last resort," emphasized Bonacci. "It is not something we would do lightly."
The debate on the ordinance then turned to the council members. All of the Helper officials appeared to agree on approving the city's proposed water ordinance, except Jim Robinson.
"If you drive by my house, my lawn is dead because I haven't been using any water outside this year," stated the city councilman. "I won't be putting in a garden, either, for the same reason. Personally, I won't support something the costs taxpayers more money."
When the vote was taken, the ordinance along with all of the provisions and a rider, that some emergency language needed to be included in it, as suggested by city attorney Gene Strate passed four to one, with Robinson being the only Helper City Council member to vote against the measure.